Sharp Dressed Man: Dress Code In The NHL And NBA

With the National Basketball Association (NBA) back with pre-season games tonight, and the National Hockey League (NHL) starting their tune-up games next week, we wanted to examine the dress code mandated by each league.

The NHL’s Dress Code

One of the most polarizing figures in the hockey community, Don Cherry, was quick to praise hockey players at the grassroots level, all the way to the NHL, for their appearance in suits and ties. Meanwhile, he called the ones in more casual attire “thugs”. President of Hockey Operations for the New York Islanders, Lou Lamoriello, is well documented for mandating that his players be clean shaven throughout the entire season, including the playoffs. For those unfamiliar with hockey, a “playoff beard” is a long standing tradition of not shaving for as long as you’re in the playoffs. The bigger the beard means more success in the playoffs.

Hockey is definitely seen as an “old boy’s club,” with the majority of players being Caucasian, and North American born. The fact that they must wear suit and tie is written into their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) says a lot about the league. Many players regard hockey as a “gentlemen’s game,” and that expectation goes all the way from their play on the ice to their behaviour off the ice as well. The dress code that the NHL enforces is based on white, primarily Canadian traditions. It punishes any outliers.

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One player that is known for being “flashier” than most is Evander Kane (seen above). He was benched for showing up to a game in a tracksuit. His tracksuit was then thrown into the showers, and his reputation of being cocky was solidified. Kane is also one of the few black players in the league.

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Another player who was seen as flashy, fashionable and was eventually run out of town, is PK Subban (seen above). He wore flashy suits, and played a “flashy” style of hockey, which his coach and GM were not fond of. He was eventually traded for Nashville’s captain, Shea Weber. Weber seemingly personified the white and professional ideals that the coach and GM were looking for. Despite being traded out of Montreal, he still maintained connections and his philanthropic endeavours at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Not likely a coincidence, Subban is also one of the NHL’s few black players.

Hockey Diversity Alliance and Return to Play

The Hockey Diversity Alliance was formed by current and former NHLers, like Akim Aliu, Evander Kane and Matt Dumba, among others. This is in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement gaining substantial momentum, and bringing about positive change. The Hockey Diversity Alliance’s goal is to “eradicate racism and intolerance” in the sport of hockey. This is a new era of hockey, and a new wave of young stars with their own beliefs.

dress code

The remainder of the 2019-2020 season will be played in hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton. The Return to Play terms were agreed upon by the NHL and the NHLPA. One of the more minor changes within the Return to Play agreement is a more relaxed dress code. Auston Matthews (above), one of the new wave of NHL stars, is known for his sense of style, having appeared in GQ Magazine. When asked about the change of dress code, Matthews said, “I’m really looking forward to it, honestly, it’ll be a pretty cool opportunity for guys to express themselves like other leagues are able to. At times, hockey can kind of fall behind as far as that stuff goes.”

Dress Code in the NBA

The NBA did not have a dress code until 2005. It is said that the breaking point for then Commissioner, David Stern, was a team dinner for Team USA in 2004. The entirety of Team Serbia showed up to the dinner wearing matching sport jackets, while Team USA showed up wearing a variety of different tracksuits. In 2005, Stern brought in the dress code that banned the following:

  • Sleeveless shirts
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts, jerseys, or sports apparel (unless appropriate for the event (e.g., a basketball clinic), team-identified, and approved by the team)
  • Headgear of any kind while a player is sitting on the bench or in the stands at a game, during media interviews, or during a team or league event or appearance (unless appropriate for the event or appearance, team-identified, and approved by the team)
  • Chains, pendants, or medallions worn over the player’s clothes
  • Sunglasses while indoors
  • Headphones (other than on the team bus or plane, or in the team locker room)

Unsurprisingly, many star players were against the new dress code, like Paul Pierce and Allen Iverson. These players thought the league was targeting black players in the NBA. The dress code only required them to wear “business casual,” but as the first professional sport league to impose a dress code, it is understandable why these players felt targeted.

The Similarities and Differences

Both the NHL and NBA enforce white ideals within their dress codes. The NHL enforces the rules on players of colour, like Evander Kane, and the NBA’s dress codes seems to target players of colour as well. The main difference between the two seems to be that wording in the NBA’s dress code that says “business casual”. By not saying “suit and tie” like the NHL, the NBA allows their players more freedom of expression. Some of the players would argue that the NBA doesn’t allow enough freedom of expression, but I would challenge those players to abide by the NHL’s dress code for a season, and see what the think then.

With the NHL moving towards a more relaxed dress code, and the removal of the “old school” ideals in the league, the NHL’s new wave of young stars could be able to express themselves in ways they never could before. Post-COVID style in the NHL could be extremely interesting. I wonder if NHLers brought their most outlandish outfits for their trip to the hub cities.